Interview: ArcheAge Unchained’s Merv Lee Kwai on housing, RMT, and the future of the game

    
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The announcement of ArcheAge Unchained and its buy-to-play, no-pay-to-win ruleset has been one of the big surprises of the season for the five-year-old MMORPG – but a welcome one. As stream attendance and Reddit ups and comments show, people are excited about a true fresh start as Gamigo revitalizes an old favorite.

To get a clearer picture of what folks can expect from the new version, we poked around the brain of Gamigo’s Merv Lee Kwai, aka Khrolan, who gave us the scoop on housing rushes, battling RMT, servers, the business model, the future of both games, and where Unchained fits in the MMO industry.

Do note that we asked these questions before last week’s stream, meaning we didn’t know about the delay of Unchained to October 15th at the time. Read on!

MassivelyOP: Khrolan mentioned on one of the streams that the Unchained plan has been in the works for a long time – since before Gamigo bought up Trion, in fact. Can you talk about what Gamigo specifically brought to the plan that wasn’t necessarily in the works before? What else did Trion have cooking that might make its way into Gamigo’s version?

Merv Lee Kwai, Gamigo VP of Development: The buy-to-play version of ArcheAge existed in concept for well over two years. When gamigo purchased Trion, it was nothing more than lightly defined plans, some general framework, and an agreement to make it happen. gamigo strongly believed in the plan and doubled the size of the publishing team to prove it. This gave us the necessary capability to handle all the complexities required to deliver Unchained. Gamigo’s global presence also broadened the reach of the game, getting ArcheAge in front of customers who were unaware it existed.

Gamers seem to be embracing Gamigo’s plans to fight pay-to-win, but there’s still a lot of concern for RMT. How will the studio be combating the plague of goldselling, duping, hacking, and cheating, the sorts of things that created such a dark cloud for the original game?

Our multi-pronged initiative includes really cracking down at the policy level, adding much-needed client security, and a general mindset to aggressively combat past vulnerabilities. For example, in the Legacy version, we took strong action against gold sellers but were somewhat lax when it came to disciplining buyers. In the Unchained version, there’s a zero-tolerance approach to both buying and selling, resulting in severe disciplinary action on first offense. The Unchained version features a deep integration with Easy Anti-Cheat, explicitly targeting the historical vulnerabilities of the service.

Can we talk housing? Housing is serious business in ArcheAge, and in fact one of our writers was so upset over a server merge where she lost her homes that she abandoned the game entirely, so I understand why people are very concerned about Unchained’s real estate situation. I know you have removed tax certs and say that it will be exponentially more expensive to spend labor on hoarding territory and that you’ve added more housing space, but how are you going to deal with the land rush – especially in the early period when folks are sitting in queues while others are grabbing the best spots?

Let’s talk housing! Modern-day ArcheAge has multiple advantages that weren’t available during the original release, or on initial Fresh Start servers:

    1. The overall world size is roughly 30% larger due to the addition of new housing-focused zones, and the conversion of restricted housing zones into fully supportive residential areas.
    2. As you said, on Unchained, we don’t sell tax certificates, and alternate character accounts both require additional purchase and are restricted. This stands in stark contrast against the Legacy F2P environment where free account alts exist unchecked. Unchained doesn’t have “full kit” houses, meaning everyone must earn their housing deeds through gameplay, and build them from scratch. The whole ordeal is much more labor intensive in a world where labor isn’t purchasable.
    3. We disassociate the ability to claim houses with the live release. Unchained servers will unlock on October 15th, but land claiming is locked until October 19th, giving players a grace period to progress. Our last few land rushes followed this model and were quite successful.

Phew, that said, I think the most important part is how committed both gamigo and XLGAMES are to closely monitor housing occupancy, and we will take action if necessary.
(P.S. I’m sorry MJ, I know you loved your plots in Falcorth!)

Speaking of queues – how many servers do you guys have at the ready to bring online if the demand is wild?

We currently have two servers per region ready to go, with three more waiting in the wings. If necessary, we can scale up to 8 per region within a reasonable time frame.

In the time since we asked this question and Khrolan turned his answers around, it looks as if he’s decided they could be adding three at launch. Here’s the absolute latest from yesterday’s tweets:

This month has turned out to be a super busy month for the MMO industry, from WoW Classic to Guild Wars 2 and even Astellia Online, which launches the same week Unchained does [or was meant to, before Unchained was delayed, which we didn’t know when we asked]. Where do you folks think Unchained fits in there – a new MMO, an update, a fun nostalgia trip?

It’s been a fantastic month for the MMO industry, and it’s great to see so many folks from other genres trying out our virtual worlds for the first time. Unchained blazes a new path and sets out to do something different: It’s not just ArcheAge branded a different way; it embodies the conscious decision from the people who make and publish the game to deliver the version our players have always wanted. It meets the toughest criticisms head-on, admits where it fell short, and pledges to do better. This mindset is supported by the legendary gameplay of one of the best open world, PVP-focused, sandbox MMOs ever. Okay, I might be a little bit biased with that last part.

Can you folks clarify the three-account policy – is that per person, per family, per household, per IP? What sort of recourse is there for players to get some leeway for that rule?

The Unchained policy is straightforward: We permit players to maintain three accounts per person. It’s easy for us to see patterns of alternate accounts interacting with a main account. We rely on aggregating gameplay activity to identify alt abusers because it’s super easy to use a VPN service, run VMs, change MAC addresses, etc. if we used those as hard variables. We won’t get lost in the minutiae; our goal is disrupting the “alt trains” that have negatively impacted the Legacy service.

A couple of weeks ago when I was listening to Khrolan explain the ArchePass and diligence systems, I remember thinking that it sounded pretty complicated for a general MMO audience that may not have ever dipped into AA. Do you anticipate needing to smooth out some of those complexities going forward, or do you figure the types of people who buy Unchained are already on board with ArcheAge’s mechanics and terminology? This is an audience question more than anything, I suppose – is Unchained aimed mostly at current/former ArcheAge players, or the broader MMO playerbase?

ArcheAge has some super deep and complex systems. In a world of oversimplification, we embrace this as a differentiator even if it means we appeal less to a broader audience. We’re okay with that. The ArchePass is a standard battle royale-inspired “Battle Pass” refactored in terms of ArcheAge. Players complete objectives, make a bar go up, and get great free rewards for doing so.

Does Gamigo foresee ever needing to change the game’s business model? I don’t just mean for the folks saying they won’t try it if it’s not free-to-play, since that would sort of make no sense with this format, but rather for the future – are you confident that initial sales and cosmetics can sustain the game long-term? What’s the plan if it can’t?

Tough question asked very politely. I know players are worried about the future of the Unchained business model because they’ve seen many games launch with a fair marketplace design in mind, only to compromise their morals after not hitting revenue targets. The difference here is ArcheAge has been a successful game for 5+ years globally. The Legacy version will continue to run alongside Unchained, and I’m confident that’s enough to sustain us. We’re more concerned about exposing this great version of the game to everyone we turned off by our previous approach.

Has Gamigo given any thought to what it will do should Unchained not manage to retain sufficient players long-term? Obviously we hope that won’t be the case, but we’re thinking of how RIFT’s progression server was shut down earlier this year – would the company make provisions to ensure that Unchained characters were rescued somehow should Unchained close down?

With the amount of hype and excitement around Unchained I think it’s highly unlikely. However, since we’re playing “What if’s” the responsible thing to do in that situation would be to have an open, transparent dialogue with the community, and arrive at a solution. I think the absolute worst case would be to consolidate servers and continue to support the game at a smaller scale.

On the flipside of that, what happens if everyone flocks to Unchained and the original servers start to become ghost towns – what’s the plan there?

Similar answer to the previous one: We care about the community down to the last person who plays the game. Ultimately, we’d consolidate and run the Legacy service with a single mega server. We have some unique plans prepared for the Legacy service though and if history is any indication, Legacy players don’t easily abandon their massive progress and flock to fresh start servers.

Finally, do XL and Gamigo have any other sorts of “progression” type servers in the works for the future?

Not currently. We’ve placed our focus on Legacy, Unchained, and the upcoming Shadows Revealed update!

We’d like to thank Khrolan for his candor with both us and the community! ArcheAge Unchained is currently set to roll out on October 15th as a buy-to-play MMO, and preorders are indeed open right now. Gamigo is currently planning another ArcheAge stream today at 1 p.m. EDT on Twitch.

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Solaris

AA has the best MMO gameworld I’ve seen. If the dev sticks to this model, I’ll be back.

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Oleg Chebeneev

HOw you guys didnt ask anything about graphics improvements? I want to know how much of the world has changed

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Carebear

I asked for a pve server option and got attacked from pvpers in the forums! The game is made for pvp they said, etc etc.

If I ever show them how much i spent in bdo as a lifeskiller (never did pvp) they would maybe open their little minds and understand that people might just enjoy the game world, their house, their boat, etc.

And since as they say its not made for pve then why they afraid? People will join pvp servers and ignore pve server right? Right?

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PanagiotisLial1

The game is made for both really but PVPers, because as in amount of people, are less, they can get pretty defensive on all open world pvp enabled games even if its pvp with safezones. I am personally like 80% PVE 20% PVP which means I do it on occasion and yes there were games its easy to co-exist within same server. I would argue that in many sandboxes PVE players are mainly the market’s suppliers and PVP players are the buyers so it helps the economy. The problem was that most recent games were trying to emulate the pre-trammel UO that was purely a gankbox and the tendency to emulate that gave all sandboxes with pvp a bad reputation.

May come as a surprise to you but you can play for example EVE and if you play it safe and got knowledge of what tools are at your disposal to be able to avoid PVP even for years. There was a time I was sick and tired of pvp and avoided it for over 20 months while still actively playing EVE. Generally on PVP sandboxes experience is your best tool to do anything as safe as possible. That said there are games that feed you straight to the wolves and got full loot pvp (e.g. ahem Mortal Online ahem) and best to be avoided but ArcheAge isnt like that

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Carebear

thanks for the reply. I understand that pve players play their part in the economy and pvp players need them… But if thats the case, games should allow pve players to avoid pvp as much as they want when they do purely pve activities, like gathering, fishing, etc.

I played BDO and I avoided to join a guild to avoid pvp wars. I was a life skiller and no one ever touched me because they would lose karma and because I wasnt offended them. If I was on a spot that someone else grind, I would move away and find another spot if possible.

It was very clear to me that if I dont “offend” someone, they have no reason killing me and they will avoid doing so because of karma.

In Archeage, when I played it in its first release, things were vastly different. once you were on contested zones, people pretty much killed you on sight. And If I remember well, you were somehow “forced” to do trade runs cause they were super beneficial.

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Solaris

I crafted in Legacy AA. You can play this game as a non-PvPer and enjoy it. Helps to have a strong guild to help when you do need to venture out.

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Strana M

The game is build around risk vs reward. 99% if the risk is pvp and 1% is seabugs.

You can still play game and avoid PvP if you want, it just means you need to avoid the ocean and wait til land zones go into peace time. 1-30 zones on each continent are always protected zones. The 30+ zone cycle through 5 levels of conflict that get progressed by pve/pvp kills in zone, then enter a set duration of war followed by 1h of peace. Most the zones should cycle several times a day.

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PanagiotisLial1

Overall I am cautiously optimistic and therefore had bought the cheapest of the packs

No it isnt perfect but if they remain commited to their word its 75% in the right direction and that is something most games cant claim

What lacks there is a cap of plots per player(not account) and a more strict account cap

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Bruno Brito

Best of luck.

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Strana M

I believe there is also a cap on account to only have 2 unbuilt/unfinished plots.

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PanagiotisLial1

if not wrong its 2 house design unfinished cause many houses take more plots

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Toy Clown

I love everything about Unchained except for one thing: Three accounts per person and up to three people on an IP. Already players talk in chat and on the forums of how they will be playing 9 accounts. I honestly don’t know why these players are coming over to Unchained when they’re happy to spend money to advance.

I would have much rather seen 1 account per person and up to three people on an IP, thus bringing the damage done by multi-accounting down to 3 accounts total.

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PanagiotisLial1

While I agree they promised at least to be checking suspicious interactions to find out if people try to bypass the limits

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Jim Bergevin Jr

It’s nice that they’re concerned about those turned off by the Legacy Business Model. I still haven’t seen an answer to the question on why one of those turned off should have to buy into the game again (assuming that a Founder’s Pack was purchased when Legacy was releasing), to get the kind if experience and game that we should have gotten the first time around.

Ligeance
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Ligeance

What you’re really asking, though, is, “why can’t I just get Unchained free-of-charge, since I bought a Founder’s Pack 5+ years ago and didn’t get what I perceived to be the appropriate value for my money?”

And the answer to that is… never going to arrive, so please don’t hold your breath for one. This is now a different horserace, with a different jockey. Seeking accountability from Gamigo for the transgressions of Trion Worlds is something of a fools’ hope.

If they gave the game free to everyone who initially bought in and then got turned off by Legacy ArcheAge, there wouldn’t even be an Unchained, because they wouldn’t be able to afford it.

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Bruno Brito

I can agree with this assessment, and i think it’s exactly because of it that i wouldn’t recommend this game to even the most functional whale.

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partiesplayin

I have to agree with this there is a bit of a land shortage in the game when it’s really populated and there’s also a lot of the map that is yet to be filled with content so I think there’s definitely room to grow in this game if it becomes a hit like they hope it does hopefully they will produce more land areas as well as content in areas that are yet to be developed only time will tell.

laelgon
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laelgon

Still haven’t convinced me housing will be anything besides a cluster-f. Great that they’re delaying land claiming, but still doesn’t solve the problem that all the land will be claimed within 30 minutes of it opening. I’ll be out of town that weekend so I get to be locked out of one of the main pillars of the game.

And if they do spin up additional servers, what happens when they have to merge them in six months? The exact same land rush fiascos that made people quit last time around.

Fixing P2W is great and all, and I commend them for it, but there’s still the fundamental problem that the game greatly rewards people willing to no-life on multiple accounts, and punishes those who can’t as a result.

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Toy Clown

There are several other factors at play that make housing harder to obtain, thus the expectation isn’t there that all housing will be gone on the first day. I honestly can’t project how long housing will last. I’ll list them out.
1. 30% more land from release.
2. The farmhouse which used to be 50 gilda is now 300 gilda. The only gilda-affordable properties will be smalls. (8×8 to 16x16s)
3. Since tax certs can’t be traded or sold in the cash shop. Players will have to figure out how to get enough to place houses.
4. If people find enough tax certs, they can only have two unbuilt houses at a time, which will further slow up the land rush.

If for some reason you end up late to the party, it’s still possible to take advantage of another feature added after release in that you can do safe sales of houses. A listing of these is at each zone’s community board.